The Jewish religion and culture has many beliefs concerning the burial of the deceased and the grieving process which follows death. My intent is to learn the rites and rituals following death for both the deceased and the surviving kin. Today, I’ll be talking about the Jewish time cycle of response to loss, or the traditional manner in which the culture grieves. The formal structure of Jewish grief can be broken down into five time periods – the Aninut, Shiva, Shloshim, Shanah, and Thereafter.
Aninut occurs preferably a day or less before the burial and is considered a precursor to the official start of mourning. This period is defined by the requirement to give the deceased a quick and respectful burial and this time is marked from the time of death to the time of burial. The mourners are excused from all religious duties, save giving the deceased a proper burial. Genesis 3:19 states “unto dust you shall return”, and this is the structure which the practice of placing the body directly into the ground as soon as possible is based upon.
The term Shiva refers to the week of mourning which takes place after the burial. During this week, the mourners are given time to come to terms with their loss and to assimilate to the idea that their loved one is gone. The community of the mourners offers emotional and physical support by bringing food and sitting with the family. The change in the rhythm of life signifies the change that has occurred. Prayers are said and scriptures are recited at the Shiva home, while stories and memories are shared by the family and the community to memorialize the deceased.
Shloshim and Shanah gives a set of time frames, duties, and modes of changes in behavior that respect the deceased but help the living to return to their regular life activities. These periods of mourning, roughly the month and the year post-burial, encompasses the “firsts” that the mourners will have to go through without their loved one. The purpose of Shloshim and Shanah is to help the mourners to accept their pain and to rejoin their community and work lives.
Every year at the Yahrzeit, or Anniversary of Death, the community of the deceased devote prayers and ceremonies in memory of the deceased. The day allows space for the continuation of remembering the deceased and reworking how life without them operates. The same scriptures and prayers which are recited during Shiva are said during Yahrzeit. In addition to each family observing Yahrzeit for each of their passed loved ones, the Yizkor service is recited during major holidays, such as Yom Kippur and Passover, for the community to remember all who have passed together.
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